HC Deb 26 April 1852 vol 120 cc1112-4

begged to ask the right hon. Secretary at War whether there was any ground for hope that Her Majesty's Ministers would recommend to Her Majesty to grant any compensation, by promotion or otherwise, to the officers who survived in the Birkenhead for their heroic conduct and total loss of their property in that miserable shipwreck? In order to make his question intelligible to the House, he would mention that Her Majesty had already the power of granting compensation, in such a case as he had alluded to, up to the amount of 80l.; and also of rewarding officers who were thought deserving by promotion. One of the officers who escaped from the Birkenhead was the son of a poor clergyman—he had lost everything he possessed, to the amount of 300l., and it was utterly impossible that either he or his friends could make that sum good.


said, he would gladly take that opportunity of expressing his approbation of the heroic conduct of the men who suffered by the unfortunate catastrophe to which the hon. Gentleman's question referred, and the more especially as the troops who displayed such heroic devotion were not old soldiers, but recent raw levies, who were going to join their several regiments at the Cape. This showed that the discipline which made them so heroic in the field, also qualified them to act a noble part in any other circumstances of danger. The question of the hon. Gentleman resolved itself into two points: the first with regard to compensation, and the second with regard to promotion. The War Office would he most happy to receive applications for compensation, and to entertain them in a liberal spirit. According to the regulations and Her Majesty's warrant for compensation, all these losses must be brought before a board of officers. The hon. Member was perfectly correct in stating that the maximum allowed in such cases was 80l.; but by the 90th section of the Act, it was also in the power of the Secretary at War, on receiving from the board of officers a special report, under special circumstances, and with regard to a particular service and a particular equipment, to grant a greater amount of compensation where a greater loss had been incurred. He could only say, that if sufficient funds were in the hands of the Secretary at War, nothing would be more agreeable to his office than to distribute them in the manner suggested. With regard to the question of promotion, it must be remembered that promotion was not dependent upon the War Office, but rested with the Commander-in-Chief. At the same time, if they looked* at the past conduct of the noble and gallant Duke who held that office, they would find that he was always as ready to reward the heroism of military men, as he was capable of appreciating their services. Unhappily, this was not the first occasion of late years where military officers had distinguished themselves in the midst of such disasters; and the House must revert to the antecedent acts of the Commander-in-Chief to judge of the course he was likely to pursue under the present circumstances. Four instances of shipwreck had occurred within the last few years, in which officers had distinguished themselves in saving life; and in each case promotion or appointment to staff situations had been given to the sufferers. He might instance the 91st, the Royals, and the 80th Regiment, as cases in which that course had been pursued. He was glad to see that the highest Lady in the land, and some of the most eminent individuals, were generously raising a subscription for the purpose of affording relief to the surviving sufferers by the deplorable loss of the Birkenhead.